Are you enjoying the scheduled series of *ooof*s? As you know, I have been writing these in advance, for the three weeks preceding my EDD (estimated date of departure). This particular one I am writing on day -5 EDD, and I can already say one thing – this has not been a chore but a joy. Looking intensely at imagery is something I do every day, but I hadn’t done this in terms of writing about it, and I find that my increased *ooof*ing activity has really tuned me back into my upcoming photography gig on my trip. In short, I am gagging for “it”, for spotting the click-worthy, for framing the shot and for releasing the shutter. As ever, RA is proving to be a “trigger”, a motive (and a motif) to think about what I like doing best. I will miss it and *him* while I am travelling, but who knows, maybe I will be able to keep up with the happenings in the fandom while I am gone.
Four weeks in – and more than half way through my absence – I am trying very hard to have a bit of variety in these scheduled posts. Most recently, all new imagery seemed to come from the lens of Sarah Dunn. I have avoided her so far in my “scheduled series”, but now it is time to look at another one of her images. For this week’s *ooof* let’s put a coat on RA – and hide the skin. *awwww*
A man in a street. A large building at a t-junction in the far background that looks like a church, tall houses either side of the street. There is a row of parked cars visible on the right and an empty pavement with a couple of street lights on the right. In the centre of the image the subject has turned half towards the camera. RA (bearded version) has buried his hands in his bulky military style coat and stares out of the picture with a hard-to-define expression on his face. Maybe it is obscured by the beard, but I find it difficult to read whether this is a smile or a mid-sentence neutral look.
The composition of the image is pleasing: the symmetry of the houses on either side of the street is well-judged. The vertical lines of the end-of-terrace on the left and the street light on the right, together with the horizontal ledge of the church at the end of the street create a frame around the subject. The angles of the diagonal lines of the parked cars on the left and the double-yellow + curbstone on the right balance each other well because the sitter has been placed in the middle. Moreover, for once the cropping leaves enough space around the sitter and cuts at a place where it feels natural. His head is right on the middle of the upper third line, which appeals to our built-in aesthetic.
By using the architecture of the environment in her shot, Dunn creates a nice feeling of depth and three-dimensionality in the image. The subject is the focus point in the middle, but the strong converging lines of the composition lead our gaze from before him to behind him. The use of a large aperture in the shot adds to that, by only keeping the subject in focus while allowing all other parts of the image to fall off and appear blurry. This further emphasizes the “deep”, three-dimensional feel of the image.
Interestingly, the image is shot against sunlight, in the middle of the day – which you can tell by the evidence of light and the angle of the shadow on Armitage’s left shoulder. An interesting choice as the strong mid-day sun is something that photographers avoid, just as much as they do shooting against a light source, which invariably will place the subject’s face in shadow. This is not the case here, though, and may have been remedied by exposing the image for the sitter’s face and possibly using a fill flash. Yet, despite the sunlight in the image, to me this picture does not look particularly sunny at all. In fact, to me it looks as if it was shot on a rather grey and slightly dull day. Maybe the whole image could’ve done with more contrast, although I understand that that would’ve been tricky as there are so many different tones in the scene already.
Niggles aside, what I like about the image is the unpretentiousness of it. That applies both to the sitter as well as the photographer. I like the way Dunn just places her subject in a street, no props, no shenanigans, and (simply) releases the shutter. She takes care with the composition, but she works with an ordinary setting. Likewise, Armitage comes across as quite unpretentious in it – as if he has just been ambling down the street, hands buried in his coat, turning around as someone is calling his name. It could almost be a snapshot, not a carefully composed portrait, and as such it exudes a sense of immediacy and truthfulness .
Mr A obviously presumably liked this image very much, after all he illustrated his 2014 Christmas message with it. A seal of approval? Regular readers know that Dunn is not *my* favourite photogRApher. That highly dubitable honour still goes to Robert Ascroft, with Blair Getz Mezibov and Justin Canning in hot pursuit. If you look at my favourite photographers, you might realize what it is that Guylty obviously goes for. Can you guess? What do those three photographers have in common? They are all predominantly or at least contain *some* colour photography. They produced a long(ish) series of shots, sometimes with a number of variations of one particular set-up/fashion style available. They all shoot pretty sleek, crisp, clear and glossy photographs. Their pictures are shot on location. They are all men. Ok, disregarding the last, Dunn has easily done the same. She has produced series of shots, including colour images, taken on location. But there are a couple of things where she doesn’t hit *my* target – they are not glossy and crisp in the way Ascroft’s or even McCormack’s are, and they do not quite touch me. Despite the occasionally glamourous clothes, the obviously styled locations and the variation of styles, her imagery remains strangely remote to me.
This is not a quantifiable, objective caveat, but I simply do not “feel” her images. It is as if there is a fine mist between me and her sitter, a cloud, slightly obscuring her lens and distancing me from the subject. She doesn’t produce this crisp, tension-crackling clarity that Ascroft or Canning have, where you can see every single detail in sharp focus, down to the last hair. Even when she shoots at a smaller aperture (i.e. with a large depth of field) such as the Hobbit cast promo images that brought us RA on the bed, staring through a window and posing outside in front of it, she seems to filter the crisp clear-ness away by colour-draining the images and/or exposing a stop or two higher. Those are *her* artistic decisions, it is *her* aesthetic, and therefore her imagery is perfectly valid. But apart from a couple of images, *I* never feel the urge to reach out and touch the sitter through her screen.
I totally concede that this is a matter of personal preference. Because by all accounts, Dunn’s images are favourites with the fandom. Some of that, I suspect, may be due to two factors. There is 1) a (false?) sense of approachability to Dunn due to her activities on Twitter and early communication (sort of) with the fandom, and 2) her status as “appointed court photographer by His Royal Hotness himself”, ennobled by RA’s enthusiastic endorsement as “favourite photographer” . As such there is a sense of obligation, almost, to “like” the work of the photographer who is
favourited favoured by the subject, maybe more as a concession to RA than in order to find myself sharing an opinion with my favourite actor. And Mr A liked this image, otherwise he wouldn’t have used it for illustrating his tweet. As such it is an interesting insight into *his* artistic/photographic/aesthetic sensibilities and preferences. Mind you – he can’t be pinned down on that as his Twitter profile is illustrated with a glossy, crisp Ascroft. A man of extremes? Well, the two combined, it is middle of the road – even if he will *never* be middle of the road for me…